Jawfish Makes Like a Ninth Arm
Jawfish normally stay hidden in ocean burrows, avoiding predators. "I've never seen one swimming in the open," Rocha said.
But the jawfish in the video, wiggling its body "almost like a tentacle," closely follows the mimic octopus for at least a quarter of an hour—filming was cut short after 15 minutes, when Kopp had to come up for air.
The fish probably stuck close to the octopus—which didn't seem to notice its "hitchhiker"—to take advantage of the camouflage while looking for food or a new burrow. But the researchers don't yet know which.
They're also not sure whether the event is a one-off or whether the jawfish "does that every time" an octopus comes by, Rocha said.
(Also see pictures and watch video of octopuses that carry coconuts as instant shelters.)
Octopus-Mimicking Fish a New Species?
Adding to the odd situation, the jawfish's species is even in question.
It looks like a black-marble jawfish, aka harlequin jawfish, aka Japanese jawfish—a variety thought to have a range stretching from southern Japan south to Indonesia, the home of the mimic octopus.
But because this is the first time a jawfish has been documented performing any kind of mimicry, Rocha said, he has to wonder if there's some chance the Indonesian fish might be genetically distinct from its far-flung cousins.
"We're not even sure if the jawfish [throughout that range are] actually one species," Rocha said. "The one from Indonesia might even be a new species."
More: See a picture of a mimic octopus mimicking a sea star >>
The octopus-mimicking fish study appears in the current edition of the journal Coral Reefs.http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/01/120105-fish-mimics-octopus-kopp-science/